Page 383

Page 383 (1968: The Defining Year)

latest prey of Company H started to cross the river in boats. Under
illumination provided by the battalion's 81mm mortar platoon, the Marines
sunk both boats with small arms fire.52

Amid the efforts to defend Da Nang and the pursuit of the fleeing
enemy by Operation Sussex Bay forces, the 1st Marine Division continued
its preparations for the redeployment of the 27th Marines. As elements
of Colonel Robert G. Lauffer's 1st Marines arrived at Da Nang, they
took up positions in the 27th Marines sector, the first phase of an
orderly turnover. By 1 September, Colonel Lauffer had two of his battalions
in place and controlled two others of the 27th Marines. Those battalions,
the 1st and 2d, still occupied defensive positions in the area. General
Youngdale reorganized the Da Nang TAOR, extending the 1st Marines' new
area of operations east to the sea, thereby relieving the 3d Amphibian
Tractor Battalion of the responsibility for securing the area south
of the Marble Mountain Air Facility. This move allowed the amphibian
tractor Marines to concentrate on their primary mission of supporting
infantry units in the field.53

Operation Sussex Bay continued into September, but the area of operations
shifted to Go Noi Island. During the evening of l September, Battery
E, 2d Battalion, 11th Marines moved by helicopter to the Go Noi to support
an operation to be carried out by the 2d and 3d Battalions, 5th Marines.
On 2 September, the 5th Marines launched its attack into the eastern
half of the island. Lieutenant Colonel James W. Stemple, the commander
of the 2d Battalion, remembered that the aim was "to sweep Go Noi from
the railroad berm to the eastern end of the island with the two battalions
advancing abreast by phase lines." Contact was light. By 5 September,
the Marines had rooted out and killed only 6 North Vietnamese and 5
Viet Cong, and had suffered 5 dead and 22 wounded. Of the Marine casualties,
4 dead and 11 wounded were the direct result of enemy action, while
the remainder were victims of accidents and incidents including short
mortar rounds and a friendly airstrike. The last two Marines to become
casualties during this phase of Operation Sussex Bay were wounded by
an aroused denizen of Go Noi Island, a water buffalo who embodied the
hostile attitude held by the rest of the island's population toward
the Marines. The heavy rains of Typhoon Bess would force the Marines
temporarily off the Go Noi.54

Typhoon Bess

On 5 September, Typhoon Bess struck the I Corps Tactical Zone, catching many units far afield. Winds in excess of 50 knots, accompanied by heavy rain and a ceiling of less than 100 feet, grounded all aircraft for two days.55 The 3d Battalion, 5th Marines quit Go Noi Island and marched to nearby Liberty Bridge. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines was not as lucky, since it was, as Lieutenant Colonel Stemple recalled, "occupying positions at the very east end of the island." The battalion moved to what high ground there was along the railroad berm as Stemple "knew there would be no way we would be able to 'walk off the island." The next day Marine Corps helicopters lifted the 2d Battalion our of the Go Noi except for Company H. This latter company was supposed to remain on the island, directly under the operational control of the 5th Marines, and then sweep back to Liberty Bridge the following morning. According to Lieutenant Colonel Stemple, he convinced Colonel Graham, the 5th Marines commander, to helilift this company out after one Marine in the company drowned in the attempt.56 By this time ground units all over ICTZ suspended operations and moved to high ground to wait out the storm.

Even units in base areas were not safe from the typhoon's effects. Rising water flooded defensive perimeters, filling trenches and washing away bunkers. Some minefields were under a foot of water.57 The 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, scheduled to relieve the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, halted movement, as the storm's effects threatened the fragile timetable for the 27th Marines' redeployment to the United States.58

The civilian populace suffered as well. A III MAF intelligence report estimated that, in addition to the thousands of homes blown down or washed away by Typhoon Bess, the storm destroyed 60 percent of the rice crop and 55 percent of the stored rice. Intelligence officers speculated the flooding damaged enemy caches, bunkers, and tunnels, as well.59

By 7 September, the storm abated and the weather improved enough that field operations could resume, although the flooding still hampered movement considerably. Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines provided security for a recovery unit of Company B, 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion attempting to retrieve two inoperative amphibian tractors abandoned by the 5th Marines on Go Noi Island during the storm. Normally, when a vehicle broke down in

Page 383 (1968: The Defining Year)